The tone of the Kansas City Royals' 2022 season has certainly changed over the past few months. The club's strong finish to 2021 and returning veterans set expectations somewhat high for this year. Fans expected an 80-win season led by rookie infielder Bobby Witt Jr. and other homegrown prospects. The record got worse, though, and very little went the Royals' way.
Fans are rightfully exhausted. There are still bright spots, but the team has nothing to play for right now. It shows at times in rookies, veterans and coaches alike. At the end of the day, however, there will still be a 2023 season. Despite some questions and different paths, there are still championship aspirations to build towards. One important part of that future is going to be the Royals' current prospects.
Many of the farm teams are in the same spot as their major league counterparts. None of Kansas City's minor-league affiliates have records above .500, and some are at the bottom of the standings. It's been a long fall down since the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals and High-A Quad Cities River Bandits had championships in 2021.
There are some individual prospects who are surging to close out the 2022 season. While not all of them will figure into the Royals' long-term plans as of right now, they are certainly making their names known either way.
Jakson Reetz — Catcher, Omaha Storm Chasers
A new face in the Storm Chasers' dugout, catcher Jakson Reetz, started his tenure off with a bang.
In an Aug. 28 double-header, Reetz went 5-for-6 with a home run in his first plate appearance. A Nebraska native and Norris graduate, Reetz joined Omaha after the Milwaukee Brewers designated him for assignment and he elected free agency after clearing waivers.
Reetz had plenty of connections to the Storm Chasers. He played for manager Scott Thorman in the Arizona Fall League in 2019 and bench coach Tommy Shields when he was the infield coordinator for the Washington Nationals. Reetz started his career in the Nationals organization, ultimately playing eight years there. He has already made his MLB debut and recorded a hit while in a Nationals uniform. After getting a taste of that level, Reetz clearly wants more.
"My goal is to be in the big leagues and have a good career in the big leagues," Reetz said. "I'm just trying to get back."
A 26-year-old, Reetz can still contribute in Kansas City if the need arises. While catcher Freddy Fermin is on fire in Omaha, he and Sebastian Rivero have been underwhelmed by big-league opportunities. Reetz is a powerful hitter, having 26 home runs in 2022. His .980 OPS is impressive and only improved after his Storm Chasers debut.
There is a lack of pro-ready catching prospects in the Royals' farm system. Reetz can fill that hole while rejuvenating his career with a change of scenery.
Carter Jensen — Catcher, Columbia Fireflies
Sticking with the catchers, there's a surging prospect with the Single-A Columbia Fireflies.
The 78th overall selection in the 2021 MLB Draft, Carter Jensen profiled as a defensive project while having a refined plate approach as a high schooler. He debuted on the Royals' top 30 prospects list at 20th overall, three slots behind first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino.
Jensen started the 2022 season in Columbia, a good sign for a very young prospect. His May and June performances left something to be desired, though, having fans questioning his profile. He has turned the corner in July and August, though.
His 23 hits and 22 walks in August are the most he has ever had in a single month, also having only 12 strikeouts. His 1.043 OPS in August leads the Fireflies — another cherry on top. Jensen lit up the stat sheet with towering home runs in April but now looks like a more complete player.
Jensen is the youngest player of the Royals' top 30 prospects. He's also the team's top-rated catching prospect there. Right now, he's better at Single-A than M.J. Melendez was while being a year younger. Jensen is very exciting to watch and could be a quick riser in 2023.
Diego Hernández — Outfielder, Northwest Arkansas Naturals
The Royals' overhauling of their hitting developmental staff has continually paid dividends. Diego Hernández is a great example.
Hernández, one of the Royals' only notable international prospects, has had a career year in 2022. His career-highs in hits, home runs and RBIs have propelled him to the Naturals' lineup. Kansas City's director of player development/field coordinator Mitch Maier pointed out Hernández's mechanical changes:
"Diego has made changes to his swing mechanics, which have really helped him," Maier said. "He can run. He’s a contact-oriented player. We wanted to show him what his year will be like in the coming year. We still have things we need to continue to work on. But he’s taken to what we started with his swing and made tremendous strides."
Hernández made his Double-A debut on Aug. 9 and has not skipped a beat at the plate. He currently has a 10-game on-base streak with a towering walk-off home run in that span.
The most impressive thing is that his production at the plate hasn't fallen off despite the promotion. There's an understandable learning curve, yet Hernández is still churning out hits, reaching base and catching fans' attention.
According to MLB.com, Hernández is ranked 24th in Kansas City's farm system. That's his highest ranking thus far. He's trending upward, and his August is very promising.
Frank Mozzicato — Pitcher, Columbia Fireflies
Many, including this writer, were puzzled by the Royals selecting high school pitcher Frank Mozzicato with the No. 7 pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. Now, he looks worthy of that selection.
Mozzicato was an unimpressive prospect in high school, but he looks good for the Fireflies. His fastball-curveball combination is still developing but has worked him out of several jams. His command is still raw, although that's common for many 19-year-old pitchers.
Mozzicato had the best month of his young career in August.
He has a 2.70 ERA in four August starts, all of which lasted at least four innings. His Aug. 24 outing was by far the best of the month, striking out seven batters in six shutout innings.
There's still a lot of work to be done, especially with his command, but Mozzicato is putting a string of solid starts together. Many of his season-long stats (WHIP, K/9, etc.) are trending in the right direction. He's showing his progression with stats, not just an eye test.
Mozzicato may have been saving his best for the last few starts remaining in 2022. If fans want hope for the 2023 farm system, his progress will be a great positive point.
Jonathan Bowlan — Pitcher, Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Jonathan Bowlan is often the forgotten member of the Royals' 2018 draft class. While his performances remain rocky, he's finishing 2022 strong.
The 58th overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft, Bowlan has hit several roadblocks in his career. His 2019 performance in High-A increased his expectations after posting a 3.14 ERA and 9.25 K/9 across 23 starts. He then saw no action in 2020 and played in four games in 2021. Bowlan left that fourth game after two outs, missing the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
“It definitely was not fun,” Bowlan said. “It was very frustrating, and that next week in Arkansas, it was like, ‘Man, I’m not going to be on a baseball field for like a year.’ And those thoughts go through your head. But I also have a very good support system with teammates, family and friends, and they allowed me to push through it each and every day. Trying to come back stronger than I was before.”
Bluntly, Bowlan has not looked like the same pitcher overall in 2022. He had a shutout performance in High-A, making him seem ready to try Double-A again. He has posted unspectacular numbers, though. A 6.48 ERA over six starts is not good, and his strikeout rate has plummeted. His August numbers do show some promise.
Bowlan was named the Texas League Pitcher of the Week after a stupendous performance on Aug. 28. He tossed five scoreless innings while surrendering just two hits, and earning his first win of 2022. That's a great sign as Bowlan continues to return to form.
Bowlan is Kansas City's 13th-ranked prospect. As this far system struggles to develop quality pitching, he could be a good one to emerge if his recovery goes smoothly. For the sake of fans and management alike, everyone is hoping he has a strong end to 2022.